Making Social Impact Calculable: The Development of Social Return on Investment

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This paper explores the measurement of social impact with a particular focus on the Social Return on Investment (SROI) managerial technology. Aspects of Actor-Network theory are mobilised in order to study the mechanisms of representing and making a complex object such as ‘social impact’ manageable. More specifically, it is suggested that the SROI managerial technology is a centre of translation, which allows social impact to be made commensurable.
This research is based on an in-depth case study of the creation of the SROI for the Adolescent Health Programme (AHP) programme of BRAC, a large international development organisation rooted in Bangladesh. The aim is to investigate how SROI guidelines are translated into practices via a “large star-shape web of mediators” (Latour, 2005; p. 217) that allows a previously blackboxed object such as social impact commensurable.
This paper answers the call for studies providing an account of how social impact is calculated in practice through the SROI. This study further contributes to the stream of accounting research drawing upon actor-network theory by showing how the human actors and non human traces are arranged in the creation of social impact through the measurement of the SROI. The in-depth analysis performed by this paper contributes to this literature by broadening the view on the infrastructure of referentality needed to fill out the calculation of the social impact through the SROI. In fact, the paper illustrates how the definition of social impact linked to the calculation of the SROI is clear in principle, but ambiguous in practice and only held together because it refers to other agencies for support.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe 40th Annual Congress of the European Accounting Association. 2017 - University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Duration: 10 May 201712 May 2017
Conference number: 40


ConferenceThe 40th Annual Congress of the European Accounting Association. 2017
LocationUniversity of Valencia
Internet address


  • Social Return on Investment (SROI)
  • Social impact assessment
  • Performance measurement
  • Accountability
  • Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

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